PhD in Dog Cognition and Behaviour – Apply Now

See below for an amazing opportunity for a PhD placement in Dog Cognition and Behaviour.

 

Are you interested in carrying out a PhD at our lab (http://www.dogup.it/), in the field of Dog Cognition and Behaviour. 

The University of Padua (Italy) is offering PhD research fellowships dedicated to non-italian candidates. As of now, there are 15 PhD grants available, for PhD courses commencing on October 1st 2016 and ending September 30th 2019. 

Each position will be covered by a fellowship of 13.640 Euro per year (gross value), plus full board and lodging for the three year course. Full details of the call are available here: http://www.unipd.it/en/node/1053

The deadline for the application is April 22nd 2016.

 Our research group (DogUP Lab, run by Prof. Lieta Marinelli and Dr. Paolo Mongillo) is one of the destinations that applicants can choose.

Our current main research topics are: 1) the characterisation of the dog as a model for human conditions characterised by cognitive/behavioural changes, such as senile cognitive decline and ADHD; 2) a deeper understanding on cognitive and behavioural effects of gonadectomy in family dogs; 3) improving the management of dogs in real-life situations as well as in a range of typical canine working activities. More information about our lab can be found at http://www.dogup.it/

We encourage interested applicants to contact Dr. Paolo Mongillo (paolo.mongillo@unipd.it) as soon as they can, to discuss details about a potential PhD project and for any further information they need.

Quality of research recognised by doubling of funding

The share of national research funding awarded to the University of Lincoln will almost double following a major review of research standards across the UK’s universities.

More than half of the research submitted by Lincoln to the national Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 was judged to be internationally excellent or world-leading (3* or 4*) – the highest scores possible. The University was placed in the top ten nationally for two major subject areas for the quality of its research publications, including in its largest discipline of health-related research.

Today (26th March 2015) the UK’s higher education funding councils announced how government block-grant research funding will be allocated based on the outcome of REF 2014. The University of Lincoln will receive £3.1m annually in quality-related research funding from 2015/16 – almost double the £1.6m awarded currently. The percentage increase of just under 90% is one of the largest in the UK higher education sector.

Professor Mary Stuart, Vice Chancellor at the University of Lincoln, said: “This announcement is tremendous news for the University of Lincoln and reflects the exceptional quality of the research taking place across our institution. It is also a testament to the abilities and efforts of staff and students. What is particularly pleasing is the sheer variety of world-class research acknowledged to be taking place at Lincoln, ranging from laboratory science, business and management to studies of medieval history.”

In Lincoln’s largest subject submission, ‘Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy’, the University was placed 10th out of 94 institutions for quality of its research outputs. This research incorporates the work of the Lincoln Institute for Health, a cross-disciplinary group connecting health-related studies.

In the ‘Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science’ subject area, Lincoln was placed second out of 29 institutions across the UK for the quality of outputs. This area draws together Lincoln’s specialisms in Animal Behaviour, Welfare & Cognition; and Evolution and Ecology.

REF 2014 assessed the quality and impact of research in all UK universities across all disciplines and was conducted by the higher education funding councils.

Results are now being used by the funding councils to allocate block-grant research funding to universities from 2015-16. Around £2bn of research funding will be allocated annually based on the results. The next REF is due to take place in 2020.

In total 154 UK universities took part in REF 2014, making just under 2,000 submissions from 52,000 academic staff. Almost 200,000 research outputs and 7,000 impact case studies were considered by 36 expert sub-panels.

To learn more about research at the University of Lincoln, visit our Research Showcase.

Filling the void – the miracle of pet companionship

A new research project which could help elderly people access companion animals is being spearheaded at the University of Lincoln, UK.

Researchers say that companion animals offer a unique opportunity to improve the health and well-being of elderly people, offering them a sense of responsibility. Dogs can encourage people to get out of the house where possible, driving interaction with other dog owners in the park. For those less mobile, a cat on the lap can offer enormous comfort.

Dr Sophie Hall is from the companion animals and human health research team at the University of Lincoln, led by Professor Daniel Mills. She said: “Loneliness is a growing problem in the UK; our aging society is generating higher costs for mental and physical health services, that are impacting on the economic climate.

“There is scientific evidence to suggest that companion animals can improve feelings of support as well as promote social interactions with other people. Companion animals can help to protect the elderly against ill health and reduce their visits to the doctors.”

Their work has now contributed to a census carried out by pet insurance company Vetsure, called ‘Our ‘Special Relationship 2014’ Census.

First evidence that reptiles can learn through imitation

New research has for the first time provided evidence that reptiles could be capable of social learning through imitation.

The ability to acquire new skills through the ‘true imitation’ of others’ behaviour is thought to be unique to humans and advanced primates, such as chimpanzees.

Scientists draw an important distinction between imitation and emulation when studying the cognitive abilities of animals. In true imitation, the individual ‘copying’ another’s behaviour not only mimics what they see, but also understands the intention behind the action. In emulation, an animal copies a behaviour without understanding its deeper significance: for example, a parrot reciting the words of its owner.

There is considerable debate about the extent to which non-primates are capable of true imitation.

Now researchers from the UK and Hungary have presented the first compelling scientific evidence that reptiles could be capable of social learning through imitation.

They set out to investigate whether the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is capable of imitating another bearded dragon through a simple experiment using a wooden board which contained a doorway.

All subjects successfully copied the actions of the demonstrator lizard, suggesting for the first time that reptiles exhibit social learning through imitation equivalent to that observed in ‘higher’ species.

Lead researcher Dr Anna Wilkinson from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, said: “The ability to learn through imitation is thought to be the pinnacle of social learning and long considered a distinctive characteristic of humans. However, nothing is known about these abilities in reptiles. This research suggests that the bearded dragon is capable of social learning that cannot be explained by simple mechanisms – such as an individual being drawn to a certain location because they observed another in that location or through observational learning.

The finding is not compatible with the claim that only humans, and to a lesser extent great apes, are able to imitate.”
Reptiles and mammals evolved from a common ancestor and the investigation of similarities and differences in their behaviour is essential for understanding the evolution of cognition, Dr Wilkinson explained.

Recent advances in the field of reptile cognition have found evidence of sophisticated abilities in this group.

The latest research, published in the academic journal Animal Cognition, involved 12 bearded dragons which had not previously been involved in cognition experiments.

One lizard was trained to act as a ‘demonstrator’, opening a wire door which covered a hole in a wooden board. The door could be moved horizontally along sliding rails to left or right by use of the head or the foot. The demonstrator was then rewarded with food (a mealworm) on the other side of the door.

The subjects were divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group watched the demonstrator lizard approaching the test apparatus and opening the door with a sliding head movement.

All eight experimental subjects went on to successfully open the sliding door, pushing it to the same side they had observed. None of the control group subjects did this.

A key difference between the control and experimental groups was that, while sliding head movement occurred in the case of all experimental subjects, it was never observed in the control subjects. As this was the movement that the demonstrator performed in order to open the sliding door, this suggests that experimental subjects imitated an action that was not part of their spontaneous behaviour.

Dr Wilkinson concluded: “This, together with differences in behaviour between experimental and control groups, suggests that learning by imitation is likely to be based on ancient mechanisms. These results reveal the first evidence of imitation in a reptile species and suggest that reptiles can use social information to learn through imitation.”

The team included researchers from Eötvös University in Hungary, Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

For a video of the research go to: http://youtu.be/s0Sey8WdnjM

Anna Kis, Ludwig Huber and Anna Wilkinson ‘Social learning by imitation in a reptile (Pogona vitticeps)’ Animal Cognition DOI 10.1007/s10071-014-0803-7
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-014-0803-7

Photo credit: Samantha Penrice

Tortoises master touchscreen technology

Tortoises have learned how to use touchscreens as part of a study which aimed to teach the animals navigational techniques.

The research, which was led by Dr Anna Wilkinson, from the School of Life Sciences, involved red-footed tortoises, which are native to Central and South America. The brain structure of reptiles is very different to that of mammals, which use the hippocampus for spatial navigation.

Instead, it is thought that the reptilian medial cortex serves as a homologue, however very little behavioural work has actually examined this. To understand how tortoises learn to navigate around their environment, the researchers tested how the reptiles relied on cues to get around.

Dr Wilkinson said: “Tortoises are perfect to study as they are considered largely unchanged from when they roamed the world millions of years ago. And this research is important so we can better understand the evolution of the brain and the evolution of cognition.”

Dr Wilkinson carried out the initial training while at the University of Vienna, giving the tortoises treats such as strawberries when the reptiles looked at, approached and then pecked blue circles on the screen.

Two of the tortoises, Esme and Quinn, went on to apply their knowledge to a real-life situation.

The researchers placed them in an arena with two empty food bowls that looked like the blue circles on the touchscreen. The tortoises went to the bowl on the same side as the circles they were trained to peck on the screen.

Dr Wilkinson explained: “Their task was to simply remember where they had been rewarded, learning a simple response pattern on the touchscreen. They then transferred what they had learned from the touchscreen into a real-world situation. This tells us that when navigating in real space they do not rely on simple motor feedback but learn about the position of stimuli within an environment.

“The big problem is how to ask all animals a question that they are equally capable of answering. The touchscreen is a brilliant solution as all animals can interact with it, whether it is with a paw, nose or beak. This allows us to compare the different cognitive capabilities.”

The study ‘Touchscreen performance and knowledge transfer in the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)’ was published in the journal Behavioral Processes http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376635714001326

To see the tortoises in action go to http://youtu.be/zMJLuh6p0A8

 

Tortoises